WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
58: What Nonprofit Leaders Can Learn From Startup Success and Failure with Ande Lyons
“The (startup) journey can be very difficult. I don’t glorify it.”
– Ande Lyons
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
Want to remember exactly who you are – and be unafraid to claim it? Then you’ll want to tap into the infectious positivity and purpose my guest shares on this episode of What the Fundraising. Ande Lyons is a Startup Champion coach who, as the founder of four successful entrepreneurial ventures, knows intimately the ups downs, joys, and losses associated with taking big risks in pursuit of a passionate vision.
While for-profit and nonprofit mandates may differ, many of the organizational challenges overlap. In fact, the pressures to deviate from the foundational mission, scale too quickly or ravage work-life balance are very often exactly the same. But Ande, who hosts the Startup Life Podcast as well as a YouTube livestream, is offering a different path forward. Her inimitable “Andelicious Advice” is all about bringing us back to a holistic center, where our goals are clearly defined and our time is thoughtfully invested.
We are diving into bedrock truths about founder identity and also busting some of the intimidating startup myths. A big one? Everyone is on their way to massive expansion and an IPO. Wrong! Ande reminds us that the vast majority of businesses fail – and there is absolutely no shame in it. As nonprofit leaders, we must step into our authority and (even with knees knocking) own the truth of where we are – even hard truths, like an organization’s unsustainable model or poorly matched donor partnership.
It’s all fodder for growth and that learning goes with us to the next venture, says Ande, “This journey is about making mistakes,” she says. “In fact, the beauty is in the mistakes.” You’ll come away with food for thought about the power of saying “yes” to cold calls that are relentlessly saying “no” as well as strategies for defining – and then adhering to – a core value set that is authentic, sustainable, and abundant. “You aren’t in (the founder’s) seat because it’s easy. You’re there because you are called to do this work … and then compelled,” says Ande.
sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable
- Ted Talk: How You Can Use Impostor Syndrome to Your Benefit/Mike Cannon-Brookes.
- “Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine,” by Mike Michalowicz.
- Support for this show is brought to you by Bloomerang. Our friends at Bloomerang really understand fundraisers, which is how they make donor management software that nonprofits like to use. To learn more about them, head on over to bloomerang.com/mallory.
TIPS AND TOOLS TO IMPLEMENT TODAY
Support for this show is brought to you by Bloomerang. Our friends at Bloomerang really understand fundraisers, which is how they make donor management software that nonprofits like to use. To learn more about them, head on over to bloomerang.com/mallory.
Get to know @Build:
Founded in 1999, BUILD uses entrepreneurship-based, experiential learning to ignite the potential of youth in under-resourced communities and equip them for high school, college and career success. BUILD’s unique program offers students a four year entrepreneurship experience designed to reinforce the Common Core, develop 21st Century Skills and motivate student engagement in school. Starting in 9th grade, BUILD students work with their peers and community mentors to develop business ideas, pitch to funders and launch real businesses. As they journey through high school, BUILD provides students with support in navigating the college application process and the opportunity to explore college and career options, while expanding their businesses or opting into community internships. BUILD currently serves approximately 2,000 high school students at programs located in the San Francisco Bay Area; Washington, DC; Boston, MA, and New York City.
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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
Mallory Erickson: Welcome Everyone! I am so excited to be here today with my new friend, Ande Lyons. Ande, thank you for joining me on What The Fundraising.
Ande Lyons: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve got my clapper here. I’m just so excited to be here, I can’t stand it. Thank you and thank you for everyone tuning in. I’m so delighted to be here.
Mallory Erickson: So why don’t we just start with you sharing a little bit about your story which is so inspiring and amazing and just what brings you to the conversation
Ande Lyons: Mallory, when you’ve lived as long as I have, what do we got 2, 3, 4 hours. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Which decade should I start in? I am a four time founder and I’m a startup champion to founders around the world. And I am the host of the Startup Life Live Show where I amplify diverse founder voices while providing solutions and strategies, insights, and inspiration to founders’ journeys because let me tell you for many founders, it’s like sleeping like a baby, right? They wake up every two hours crying. So the journey can be very difficult. I don’t glorify it. It’s #thestruggleisreal.
And my background is, I’ve been unemployable since 1992, and I fell off the wagon a few times but I was quickly fired or fired myself. And several, quite a few businesses, the big four are the.com that I founded with my husband backed by 8 million in venture capital and turned down 14 million in addition from may they rest in peace Bear Stearns. And that is a great story about who do you have on your cap table? So it was a great .com experience. Grew it way up and then took it back down to nothing because of course, yeah, everything exploded. And very few of us were able to survive the implosion in 2020 at the end of 2020. But yeah, we launched in 1998 and I was nursing a six month old and chasing after a three-year-old. So what an experience
The next business was a food business. And I used to always say, as God, as my witness, I’ll never do anything with a shelf life again. It had a great run. I scaled it nationally over two years and then had a great four-plus year run. And then mother nature came in and blew everything up. And I literally between ingredients getting hit by agricultural challenges, droughts, you name it. To my manufacturing facility getting hit by lightning and burning to the ground.
I laugh, right everybody, yeah I cried for months after that one.
And then I had a wonderful 21 plus website, Wink, talking about intimacy for long-term couples so that you stay tuned in and turned on month after month, year after year with each other and avoid becoming roommates or parallel partners. And that I laughed every single day.
And then I launched a coaching practice where I helped founders start their business and get going and get traction. And today I feel so blessed to have a live stream show twice a week and tell founders stories and have founders come on and share their experiences of how they are building their business.
Mallory Erickson: I love that. And I’m curious, in terms of the founder identity piece, do you feel like founders or entrepreneurs have that identity before the title, perhaps? Or does the title build the founder?
Ande Lyons: Oh yeah. Nothing prepares you for founderhood. What happens is, and I asked this question at the beginning of every show, what’s the matter with you leaving a paycheck behind? What brought you to the founder journey? Were you hustling in kindergarten or something? Do you have entrepreneurs for parents? And so everyone, I’ve had 160 guests and they each have a wonderful, unique story, but I can tell you this, even for founders who are on their third or fourth business, they’re not prepared to be that business founder. Just like you as a parent, there are a few things you’re going to learn from that first kid that you’re going to apply to the second one. But basically the second one is a completely different nature, personality, all sorts of things going on, different quirks. And you’re like, geez, I didn’t see that coming.
So every founder, and there is a great Ted Talk about this because one of the other questions I asked Mallory, is when you feel inadequate as a founder, how do you shift out of that, and not if. And so there is this wonderful Ted Talk from a phenomenally successful founder and bajillion okay, several times. And he talks about founder inadequacy, talks about others feeling that way. So when you talk about founder identity, it’s an ongoing daily practice of stepping into your founderhood. So certainly newbie founders are constantly navigating the murky waters of what they are supposed to do. Because there’s this transition that happens when you go from employee, to employer and owner. And so there’s a mindset shift that happens that’s so important, a tremendous part of the journey. And as I’m always saying to folks, I’m so glad you carved out time to level up your founder game because as you do better, your business will do better. So it’s constantly upping your game as a founder.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. I love that. And I love what you’re saying about the imposter syndrome piece, which feels so resonant and so applicable to nonprofit leaders and whether they were the founder or they’re the sitting ED or a fundraiser, that imposter syndrome comes up over and over again. And I think part of that is due to the fact that it’s inherently new. Even if you’re a fundraiser, who’s been a fundraiser, every donor you work with is different. Every campaign you run is a little bit different. The technology is constantly changing, the environment in which you’re fundraising is changing. And we are looking, searching for some level of predictability, but the reality is it’s just new every time to a certain extent. And then every time we have the same imposter syndrome that we should feel differently about where we are now but here we are again not feeling expert enough in what we’re doing. So how do you talk to folks about that, who are constantly I’m sure upleveling in ways that keep that, I don’t know enough about X or I don’t know enough about why so top of mind.
Ande Lyons: Yeah, I had this big smile on my face because the whole journey I’d like to bring what I call my Andylicious bod to everything because it’s like this enthusiasm for the, oh my God, it was a disaster, moments that you were going to have. And so what happens is they may not know what’s coming and they may have the fear and the feelings of inadequacy or the #whybother, or let me just go get a job somewhere because this is just too scary. What happens is they begin to build their muscles, their tenacity muscles, their persistence muscles. Most importantly they built their ability to manage uncertainty muscles. And so it’s remarkable when you were doing a hindsight. Wow. That used to really bother me. That doesn’t bother me anymore. So there’s so many things that come they’re thrown at you.
Here’s a common ingredient in most founders, they are problem solvers. Like that lights them up, solving that problem. So it’s a wonderful way to keep the observer mentality going. And I’m always inviting founders to step out of the business and be an observer because then when you’re not taking it personally, when you’re not like so over identifying with everything and saying, oh my gosh, I’m the worst founder ever. When you can just step out and think about this is an interesting problem. And start to look at the situation like a chemistry experiment or because the other thing that’s so important for founders to remember Mallory is the fact that this journey is about making mistakes. In fact, the beauty is in the mistakes. You need to just go, oh man, just pull on those threads. Just ready to pivot out of a mistake quickly. Don’t be judging yourself. Just go, oh my gosh. I just learned this great thing and I would never have learned it if I hadn’t made a mistake.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. I want to double click on that for a second, because I really agree with that in so many different ways. And I think about it in terms of the nonprofit sector that we are trying to eradicate social issues. We don’t know how to do that. We don’t know how to end homelessness. So it’s not like we have this model that we are 100% sure about and we can just scale it. Which is why there’s the need for a variety of different nonprofits trying a variety of different programs and things, and it means inherently that many of them should and will fail. And there’s tremendously important learning in those failures. But I’m wondering how do you think about or how do you encourage founders who have financial investment or folks breathing down their neck around their success. How do they balance the ownership and acceptance of failure as a really important piece while continuing to communicate competently to their investors.
Ande Lyons: Ooh, that’s a heavy question.
Mallory Erickson: I don’t mess around.
Ande Lyons: Sometimes you need to take on the character of your authority and you just step into that authority role. And even though your knees are quaking and your heart is thumping, you have to remember you’ve got this. And what else would you be doing, especially in the nonprofit world. You’re usually 100% passionate about your purpose driven adventure. So you’re going to be doing this no matter what. When you take on other people’s money, you gotta remember, they’re the ones who are buying the risks and the opportunity. You’ve presented the story. You are going to be asking the tough questions of them along with how much are you going to write the check for? How long does it turn around, et cetera. But you also need to make sure that when you bring on that money, it is in alignment with your purpose, with your business.
And boy, I think the hardest thing to do for founders is to say no, when they’re looking at no money at all in the business and wondering how they’re gonna meet payroll. But you have to say no. And it’s a juggling act just like getting donors on board for the nonprofit. You’re constantly serving your community as the nonprofit but then you also have to bring in the constituents and the ambassadors who are excited about what you’re doing and the problem that you’re solving for society and the impact that you’re having. It is a tough juggling act. And when I asked founders about that mindset hack, to go back to the feelings of inadequacy. I would say resoundingly 80% of the responses talk about either having a really great coach or a peer group because no one can understand what you’re walking through. And by having a coach to help you navigate the murky waters or having a peer group, that’s all going, yep, been there, done that. This is what I did, being able to talk about it. And that is the really key point. Most founders have the answers already. Most nonprofit founders have the answers already. It’s inside them. But unless you have that engaged conversation with a listener, your coach or your peers, it’s hard to get that information up and out.
So what I know to be true as a four times founder is when I was up against something, if I could just corner someone and start chatting, then I’d be, oh my gosh, I’ve got the answers. This is great, all right, thank you! And they’d be like, yeah, whatever, doing their nails, having coffee. Glad it was helpful. But this is what’s so important. You cannot see it until you start to speak it and bring it out and then it’s oh, ah duh, obviously.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, and I think that is one of the ways to build that inner self-confidence. I think about the way we often think about the ego form of confidence, the external validation of I’ll be confident when I do everything right. Or I’ll be confident when I can send this perfect impact report around exactly how all the money was spent. But the reality is that true confidence, in my opinion, self-confidence is how do you stand with your knees shaking but still believing in yourself, still believing that you’re the leader or your the founder and that this failure, this learning was critical. You’re proud of what you tried and you can stand there and say that and say, this wasn’t a waste of money. This was incredibly necessary for us to take that next right step.
Ande Lyons: Absolutely. You know what analogy I like to use? Cause you know we have to walk with our shadow self, right? We have to walk with fear and doubt in this journey, holding hands with him. You cannot push those thoughts away. Yeah, you’d have to go, okay, I hear you and I’ve got this. This is what we’re going to do. I use the analogy of baking soda. On its own it tastes terrible, but dang that delicious cake isn’t going to work if you don’t have it in there. So when you blend the fear and doubt into your cake mix, you’re going to have a great outcome.
It is not easy. You aren’t in this seat because it’s easy as a founder. You’re in this seat because you are called to do this work. You really are. Lots of founders may say, oh no, I just saw a problem where I came up with this great idea. No, you were called and then you were compelled. You could not say no to doing this. So no matter what happens, and I have this wonderful short video out there where I get very clear, you always win with entrepreneurship when you found a business, no matter what happens. Because you’ll take those learnings and you’ll do another business if it fails or you’ll take those incredible skills that you built up by having a business and you’ll transfer them to a company that you’ll go and have a continued successful experience with.
You just never lose and financially what were you going to be doing with that time and money anyway? Just sitting at some desk somewhere, no. Or going on vacation, who cares? You’re here to save the world in some way, have an impact. So don’t you dare say no. And don’t you dare not level up because the world needs you and your ability to serve the world in this way. For-profit or nonprofit is so important. Seth Godin has that great quote, sure, it’s been done before but not by you and not for us. So that’s another thing, Mallory, that’s so important for founders to be able to bring to their understanding in their role, in their authority. Which is that they are uniquely qualified based on their lived experience to be doing what they’re doing.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. There are a few pieces of what you said that I want to explore a little bit. The first one might actually be a little bit hard for nonprofit folks to hear, but I really think I need to ask it and I really think it needs to be said. Which is that I think that piece of there is no sort of failure because the learnings that you get, even if it’s an exit or closing down the business are so valuable to the next iteration of your life or that problem or whatever it is.
Nonprofits I think might be missing that benefit in the nonprofit world because the closing doesn’t happen the same way that it does in the startup for-profit world. And so many nonprofits spend years and years struggling financially, but it’s just enough to keep the lights on, but folks are really underpaid and I worry sometimes, I am a believer that nonprofits should close. I ran an organization for many years. And I did not believe that the nonprofit was the right model. I thought we had learned a very hard lesson. I got us an offer to be acquired. The board did not want it because they didn’t want to give up the name. I left, they hired another ED, paid him double and he bankrupted the organization in 18 months. And the reality was the model was not sustainable. That seemed pretty clear. And I think that we don’t in the nonprofit sector, our identity or our like ego, probably in the same way as for-profit in certain ways. Although I feel like the exiting of startups is so much more.
Ande Lyons: And the glorification. Yeah, the glorification of entrepreneurship luck, most businesses fail for profit or nonprofit. Just get really clear about that. Okay. So you’re starting off with, chances are it might last, if it makes it a year, great! Five, wow that’s amazing! Okay so you have to start off with that reality. I wrote this great piece based on Lady Gaga’s song, A Million Reasons.
When your business gives you a million reasons to walk away, what’s that one reason to stay. And it’s because you best understand that you need to know when you’re going to call it quits. And that quitting is absolutely okay. Think about what you just said, Mallory and your example when you walked away. Your energy, your talent was better used elsewhere. It was not serving where you were, you knew it was not going to make it under the current model. Same with anybody who launches a nonprofit, for profit, you are going to do your best effort given the circumstances. And it may not work out, that is okay.
And for the nonprofits, I know maybe you’re working with the homeless or maybe you’re creating social justice in a way. That’s so powerful, stopping that is painful. But remember the lives that you have touched today, remember the people who came to work with you, they are all better from being around you in your leadership and your grace of building this opportunity, this business. There’s just zero guarantee in the startup world. And whether, again for-profit or nonprofit, get a little done with the glorification, you were in it to do your best. It will hopefully have an outcome, but remember you’ve got to measure your success based on what it looks like for you. And we see this a lot in the for-profit startup world, Mallory, where the unicorn, of course, nowadays they’re saying maybe a zebra or maybe they’ve got new names for it now, but it’s because we’re having a big downturn in the tech industry and the startup industry.
But the point is what does success look like for you? And don’t use someone else’s measuring tape, okay. Because, and that I invite every founder to talk about that it might be a quarter million a year. It might be having enough donors and enough to cover overhead and to make a difference and have certain events and boom. Try not to compare yourself with some mythology of how it’s supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. There are founders that are absolutely in it for global domination. They were built for it. They were made for it. Anything less would not be meeting their fully expressed self. But it’s more important that, Gary V always talks about, I’d rather be happy in my Toyota than crying in my Ferrari. You can put yourself into a space that you are just so miserable because you are over your head in something that’s just too complicated. So I just want to invite everybody to really think about what success looks like for them.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. I love what you’re saying. And I think this is such an important point and the unpacking of even the word success. I think the reality is in addition to maybe our personal beliefs, all of our personal beliefs are impacted by societal beliefs and societal limiting beliefs. And so growing up in a capitalist society, I had a client recently who was like, if I’m not growing, then I feel so uncomfortable if the organization is not growing. I feel so uncomfortable. And she was really blaming herself for that feeling. And I was like of course you feel that way, that’s what we’ve been taught that everything should always be growing.
And I remember as a kid asking my dad one time, maybe I was in high school at the time, I was like, I don’t understand the stock market, so people are just believing that everything’s going to grow forever. I was like until what?
Ande Lyons: My gosh, exactly. Everybody’s all freaked out about the downturn right now and I’m laughing. And I did a post recently about, listen I’m old enough to have been around for quite a few damn turns, including the really big one. And then I said, no, not 1929, I’m not that old. It was October, I think 1987. Okay, the fastest drop in one day ever. We all did fine. Same thing in 2000 we recovered, same thing 2008, we came back. I’m always a little blown away given what I learned during the .com craze. Nobody learns from that.
Venture capitalists, they’re all about building their funds up right now. Everybody’s a venture capitalist, everybody’s got a fund. It’s come on people, you have an agenda when you raise other people’s money for your fund, how are you going to deploy that money? And then you have people throwing money after ridiculous situations because they’re going with, well Mark and Reese thought it might be a good thing so we better all hop in. And this is why we see such little capital being given to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, et cetera. And then in a downturn of course people go, I don’t want to give up my money to a nonprofit. I don’t know how you can save that during these years right now because there’s so many problems that need solving on a social level. It’s one minute it’s the moms demand action. The next minute, it’s the environment and climate crisis. The next minute, there’s so much to give our time and money to right now it’s hard. And I know for nonprofits they are fighting for those dollars.
And I want to get back to what you were saying earlier Mallory about what if it doesn’t work out? It’s tough. I’m not trying to minimize the impact on your heart and soul when the business has to close down, I’ve been there. It is really hard. But on the other side, you’re going to find something else and another way to serve. And in the meantime, while you’re in that seat as the founder, you just need to understand like the woman who was, I need to keep growing. I don’t know, things are functioning really well. You raise a certain amount of money every year. You deploy into society and it serves this purpose and you’ve got team members that are getting paid. You’re feeding the community, you’re helping people. That’s great. And then just understand that while you’re in that seat just try to do better, take courses, listen to podcasts like this and continue to up your game as a founder and as a CEO or executive director and do your best. But boy, there are just no guarantees to this and I promise you, you will recover and you will be happy for that lived experience. Because everything is a lily pad, you’re just jumping from one lily pad to the next, getting better and better. You don’t know, I’m in my sixties. I have never been this fulfilled and happy with what I’m doing. I didn’t even think this was possible.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. And I think that piece, you said folks taking that moment to reflect for themselves around what success looks like. And maybe that’s beyond an individual level, maybe it needs to be done with your staff and with the board, but to really think about what success for our organization looks like. And I think doing that inside the organization also helps make some of those decisions about partnerships and money and when you’re going to accept money and when you’re not, because you know what success looks like for you.
And for my fundraisers listening and my executive directors, I also really want to stress that the success metrics that you track should both be the outputs and the outcomes. And if you’re looking at fundraising success and you’re looking at the money raised but the thing to not forget is the behaviors demonstrated. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make in fundraising success tracking is we only look at the moment the money goes into the organization and we’re missing so much of fundraising. Are there just not direct cause and effect actions in the same moment, they are not trackable in that way.
And fundraisers need to be celebrated for all of their success being brave. And all of their success picking up the phone and making that phone call. And we talked about this in habit and behavior design as shine. Like when you can show yourself shine then that’s what actually reinforces the habit and the behavior. And so I just think for folks to be thinking about all the different ways. I’ll say to organizations all the time don’t tell me what you care about, show me what you track. So defining success for yourself, but then also being really clear about, how are you demonstrating that that’s what you value? How are you demonstrating that that’s what you believe to be success through what you’re tracking and your organizational culture?
Ande Lyons: Brilliantly said! Yeah, it’s that celebration is so important but also understanding the ripple effect. Having that conversation with someone, even though they say no, you’ve planted a seed in their subconscious, you don’t know how that’s going to show up. May show up for another organization, may not show up for years. But the fact that you spoke to somewhere, you had an event where folks came and they learned and they got a deeper appreciation.
They go with your organization, you don’t know. But you touch someone with that conversation in your pursuit of adding value to your organization as a fundraiser, it’s just such a key role. And yes, it’s hard but it’s also exhilarating when you pick up that phone and wonder what I’m going to have for a conversation with this person. They might be a click, they might not.
Mallory Erickson: I know that was how I thought. I’ve done a lot of political phone banking in the last 10 years or so. And I’d create games for myself where I just get really curious about, I wonder what Bob is going to be like?
Ande Lyons: I had this wonderful woman on the show. She is a cold calling telemarketing expert. She’s had a telemarketing business for years and now she helps people really own that cold calling experience. And to lighten up around and find the joy in it and really see it not just as, oh, it’s just a numbers game just as I connect with someone today, yeah.
Mallory Erickson: So what you were saying before, I want to go back to what you were saying around you’ve planted a seed and maybe that’s going to ultimately come back to your organization or another organization. So I hear this belief that you might be holding underneath there that I would like to explore. Which is that the world is not a zero sum game. Talk to me about that?
Ande Lyons: It’s the abundance mindset versus the scarcity mindset. And we have to work at that. The abundance especially if we’re getting a lot of hangups or a lot of nos. And so it’s understanding that the generosity is there. It’s your job to go and find it and find the person who is called to give to your organization. So you’re just turning over the stone and understanding that the no’s are just, oh God, I hate to sound like that cliche, but it really is giving you those contrast moments so you can better understand where the yeses are. And be the detective, be the Sherlock Holmes, looking for evidence for those.
And being gentle with yourself, to go back to the founder of a nonprofit has so many tiaras or hats that they’re wearing, it can be very overwhelming. And I just want to make sure that these particular founders have a team with them. Because you cannot do this alone. There should be a warning sign out there. Do not go down this path alone. And if you have to be a solopreneur and just make sure you have some freelance folks working for you, you have that coach with you. But as a founder of a nonprofit, you have to have your team because you do need to bolster yourself up. It’s a little bit different in the for-profit world because you’re seeking a business model that has different traction requirements, different building requirements.
What I’ve observed watching and interviewing nonprofit founders is managing the heart of the business. As well, that’s not to say the for-profit don’t. They have to, but it comes different. It comes through a different lens. Does that make sense?
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, it does. So I’m curious when you think about, you were saying a little while ago that in the for-profit world, there are some for-profit businesses where success is a quarter of a million dollars a year. So I think the question that many folks are always asking is, is this scalable, both from a nonprofit perspective and a business perspective. It sounds like maybe you’re saying the lens through which to even answer that question is different from a for-profit perspective.
Ande Lyons: Oh my gosh. The scalable question, I see this with angel investors who were never really operators of a business or founders in a business, when they go, is this scalable? It’s at the end of the venture capital, yeah that’s a different investment vehicle. They have to ask because they’re usually putting in some serious change and dollars. They’re looking for two to four or as they like to say, 10 times the money. You best be scalable.
Here’s the scope, a very small fraction of for-profit companies get funded. So I like to use the MailChimp example. Everybody knows MailChimp, right? So MailChimp started off, they got some family and friends money in and that was about it. They were about traction. They were about listening to their customers and going around asking the important questions of their customers as to where they could find growth and traction. And they boot strapped their business and Reid Hoffman who’s the podcast host of Masters of Scale, was yelling at one of the founders, why didn’t you take VC money? You would have gotten there faster and they were, yeah, no, that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to stay sustainable and build thoughtfully. And of course they ended up selling for 12 billion to Intuit a year ago. So that’s the big outcome.
Look, if you can build a business that feeds you and your family, that changes the generational pattern of wealth in your family alone, that to me is get the clappers out, you’ve won! If you build it so that you’re feeding people in your community, if you’re a brick and mortar and you had a cleaning business, a cafe food, something like that. And you’re feeding people, amazing. Or if you’re remote workers and you’re paying them so that they can eat, oh my gosh, that’s a win. So you want to be able to grow enough so that you can have a profitable and sustainable business and pull money out for you and your family.
There’s a phenomenal book called Profit First. And he talks about for those who are listening who do have for-profit but even for the nonprofit, you know how to pull those funds out and put them to work. Anyway I just feel so strongly that we need to, again, just think about, what does this organization, what is it going to look like? It can be in a region, it can be in a sector. It can be a greater whatever, Merrimack Valley like we have here where I live, or greater Boston, or New England region, or this Atlantic coastline, or you know what I’m saying?
But do understand yourself enough to know what you can handle and what you can’t handle. And do not feel shame or blame around that. It’s so easy to go, I’m just not good enough or I would have been able to grow this company and scale it. Folks, look at the natures of the founders who really scale. Okay, like a lot of them may have just stopped everything else in their life, okay. That was their choice. And this is another thing, what’s that group called One Goal, the nonprofit. They’re all about having a full life that includes work and personal vocation and family life and incorporating that in the work and the business model.
Sometimes we get still stuck in the 80’s and the 90’s about how to grow a business. There’s nothing wrong with holistic. Absolutely, you best know how to bootstrap. So I know I’m just throwing out all sorts of pieces of advice, but it’s, I just have a real problem with this whole scaling to the point where you’re going to be having an IPO and going public or whatever that looks like. And I interviewed Ayela Shakur. She’s the actual founder and CEO of Build.org, a phenomenal organization bringing entrepreneurship to the classroom to teach the life skills and business skills and problem solving skills students need to be successful in life. She’s very clear, it’s going to be national in every major city and every major school around the country. And she is fully qualified. It would not be enough for her if she weren’t operating at that level. But you could have a local food bank and be perfectly satisfied or you could be doing what I’m doing and be happier than ever because you’re in your joyful purpose.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more and it was a real learning curve for me in my own entrepreneurship or founding of a company and really getting swept up. I think initially in the growth that was happening so fast and hearing from different folks, grow, become an agency, all these different things. I got to some screeching halt moment where I was like, ooh, wait a second, I think I’m building this thing based on what you all want and actually not the life that I want. But it was hard to untangle that and it was hard to turn down big opportunities and it was hard to really get very honest about what did I want every day of my life to look like? What did I want my weekends to look like? What did I want my time with my daughter to look like? And answering all those questions because I feel like especially women identifying people, parents, we are often taught to think about one element of our life in its silo. And I would meet with business coaches sometimes who would really just focus on the business. And then I would have my therapy who would just focus on me. And I was like, okay, there’s a real integration problem here, which is just those things that are happening in my business and my business is seeping out into my weekends and it took a real sort of pull back to evaluate that situation. So I really appreciate the way you’re pushing folks to think about that here.
Ande Lyons: We’ve seen folks push their business to be Fortune 5,000. And once they reach that goal, they’re like, oh, thank God and they stopped. It was too much. And now too, a group of us are constantly talking about this to investors. Do not judge the parentpreneur the same way you would be the non-parentpreneur. And I had this talk when I had the .com. I was interviewed by Wired magazine and I said, this culture is not sustainable and it is absolutely not family friendly. This culture of .com was founded by young males who could sleep on the couch and be in there fully immersed in this business. I can’t, I have two young children at home. My husband can’t, he has me and two young children, the goddess must be served. That is not sustainable. And this is why we always need to keep going back to culture as well. Take it from the Europeans, trust me. They don’t work this hard. They get the same amount of work done. They have the same really strong valuations. They’re able to raise the same kind of money. This is a US thing.
Mallory Erickson: Wow. That’s really interesting. I didn’t know that about the sort of valuation piece. And I agree. I think in the media we see, and I’m in the Bay Area so I also feel like all I hear about is scale and venture funding and all these things. And I think nonprofits will look to organizations that scale really fast, that sort of have that fame and notoriety. And they think that’s what success looks like and really pulling back and saying, no, what are you trying to do? And what does success look like to do that? And to do that really well and to do that sustainably. I think the PCU, the story you shared about MailChimp and just that focus on sustainability is so critical.
Ande Lyons: Social media teaches us this every day, right? Vanity metrics. Some people just have it to get 5,000 likes and a bajillion comments. You’re so valuable as well even if you get one or the occasional comment, seriously. People are scrolling, they’re picking up what you’re saying. So often people identify with their social media as if that is where their worthiness comes from as a business owner. And no, you go back to the Wayne Dyer quote which is, you’re a valuable person not because social media told you, I threw that in. Not because an investor told you that, not because all of these other things that you think are measuring you. You are worthy to be in this role as founder because you decide that you are worthy and therefore the idea that you touch one life, seriously, you touch one life and shift someone’s trajectory in any way positive. Come on. It’s a win. It is such a win and a nonprofit you’re doing that just by waking up every day, for crying out loud.
Mallory Erickson: Oh, it’s so true. Okay. My last question is actually about that social media piece. I was thinking about how you were talking about the need to be in community and be surrounded by other people who understand your unique position. And I totally agree. I think I have a much better community of entrepreneurs now than I ever did when I was leading nonprofits. And it’s made such a difference to get through really hard experiences or some of those rock bottom moments. And I feel like sometimes with the social media world and the comparison culture, it can be a little bit hard to know who’s real, what’s real, who you can trust. And so I feel like there’s this fine line between yes, be in community with people doing similar things to you and make sure that they’re aligned, maybe in how they present themselves, what they value. How do you think about that?
Ande Lyons: Discernment is real. You have to be discerning. So we go to the Maya Angelou quote, when they show you who they are, believe them, the first time. So we tend to be like, oh, but I’ll see the light inside them or, oh, I want to give them, no, boundary setting is so important. So have your little checklist. I have to do that because I think everyone is wonderful. And so I do have a little checklist, but are they this and that to remind myself to look because your time is so valuable in your essence and your energy is so valuable. Discernment, have that filter from which you can see which community is going to be best. And who are the energy drainers or who are the people who you think initially you’re like, wow and then you start to dig a little deeper and oh hell no.
And again, you can love them from a distance, from far and bless them on their journey. But remember just as a parent with your children or if your dog or cat parents, you are going to be very careful who comes around, right? It’s the same thing with you and your business. You’ve got to be very discerning.
Mallory Erickson: I love that. I said to someone yesterday, I have unconditional love. I can love unconditionally. But my time is not unconditional. My energy is not unconditional. Those things are not and that’s different. I think for a long time I believed if I unconditionally loved you, I needed to unconditionally be available to you. And really learning that dance. And that balance has been game changing.
Ande Lyons: Oh, Mallory. That is beautiful advice. That is thriving advice. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s so true.
Mallory Erickson: It’s been hard, but we’re there.
Ande Lyons: That again, the contrast moments that teach us so much of what works, what doesn’t, what you want, what you don’t want.
Mallory Erickson: Totally.
Ande Lyons: That was hard.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. So tell everyone where they can find you, how they can follow along, learn from you. And if you’d like to highlight a nonprofit.
Ande Lyons: Oh first of all my nonprofit to highlight, I already mentioned Build.org. Ayela Shakur is a phenomenal founder. She’s doing great work because as I started the show off with, you always win at entrepreneurship. Even if you go back to working for someone and you’re on that last paycheck, you always learn because you tap into skill sets you never knew you had. So build.org is helping our teams solve problems.
You can find me Ande Lyons, everywhere I glow. I happen to be an equal opportunity social media user. Please hop into my YouTube channel. I know that Mallory will have the links for that. Come join me for a live show. I go live on most Tuesdays and Fridays at 12:00 PM, EST and you can ask questions of me, of the founder I’m interviewing, and meet other founders who are working their way through this journey together. You can catch the replay. You can hop on to my podcast. Everything is there.
Mallory Erickson: Yes, I will have the links for everything. And thank you so much for joining me for this conversation today. It has been so fun to talk with you.
Ande Lyons: Thank you so much for having me and I wish all the folks who are fundraising out there continued success and fulfillment with all that you do. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do.
Mallory Erickson: Thank you.